There are limits to what our Congressmen and Senators can accomplish. Given GOP control of the House, it’s hard to push through climate legislation. But damn, we don’t need to make it harder. The president can block the pipeline without asking John Boehner and Paul Ryan; that’s why it’s so infuriating to see Lynch join Boehner and Ryan. If John Boehner and Paul Ryan have their way, the moment when we’ll tackle climate change is precisely never. Or maybe the day after.
Over the last year, the battle lines over the Keystone pipeline have become crystal clear. The oil industry is on one side. (The Koch brothers, it turns out, are big tar sands barons.) But its arguments have been widely discredited: the pipeline won’t increase our energy security, because the oil is destined for export to other countries. It will drive gas prices up, not down. If the pipeline isn’t extended, the oil won’t get out by some other means: Canadians have blocked a proposed alternate pipeline to the Pacific. And Keystone won’t create loads of jobs: once built, in fact, it will take just 35 people to run it, according to the pipeline company.
On the other side are such crazy radicals as Thomas Friedman, who last week used his column to urge environmentalists to conduct more civil disobedience to slow it down. The nation’s top climate scientists, who have written the president and Congress long, fact-filled letters explaining precisely why Keystone is folly. The leaders of indigenous groups across the country, and their allies in the ranching and farming communities. And Billionaire investors like California’s Tom Steyer, who have explained that it’s “bad business” to lock us into another 40 years of fossil fuel dependency.
And above all, on this side are young people. That’s who cares the most about climate change, in poll after poll. And not just in polls—across the Commonwealth, this motherlode of campuses, they’re now pushing boards of trustees to divest from fossil-fuel stock. They’re spending summers putting up solar panels and working for windmills on the Cape. And with each passing week they’re going to jail in greater numbers to protest Keystone—as local writer Wen Stephenson has explained in these pages, their passion and devotion are remarkable. And highly logical. Because Mr. Lynch and Mr. Markey and Mr. McKibben are going to be dead before climate change reaches its worst heights. But if you’ve got 60 or 70 years left on this planet, then those lines of rising temperature and rising sea level and rising drought and rising flood are going to run right over your life.
That’s why we need champions in Washington. I haven’t written much about Ed Markey, because in a sense he’s not the issue; he voted the right way on Keystone, he’s spoken out strongly against it, and he understands both its practical and its symbolic value. For me, that’s what I need to know. But it’s also true that he’s worked hard on other climate issues. I haven’t always agreed with his approach, but I have no doubt about his sincerity, or the fact that he understands what’s at stake. There’s a vote in the Senate this week on Keystone, and perhaps another that would regulate the ash from coal plants as the hazard it is. I have no doubt at all how Ed Markey would vote.